Kadamboor Neeraj looks at the works of Yogesh Ramakrishna vis-a-vis visual narrative traditions.
Yogesh’s graphic novels, with energetic figures in action – are a nod in favor of the representational tendencies of Baroda, although this is something he has carried forward from his undergrad days at Mumbai. Before we begin addressing the visuals and narrative of Yogesh’s works, we need to understand how the Graphic Novel and Comics (formats that Yogesh uses) lie at the intersection of literary and visual arts. Several opinions and perceptions can be formed by looking at the visual and text independent of each other and then again as a whole.
We look at Being Vulnerable, a comic format work from the larger body titled Tales from Badlands and see Yogesh’s exploitation of the narrative. The comic is a story located in the time and space of a hypothetical location. Experiences from personal history are exaggerated and retold in a graphical manner giving the viewer/reader a moment to situate themselves in the incident. A work titled Mapping the Memories from Badlands serves as a visual index. The work is drafted in the form of a map of a fictitious city that pin points areas of tensions, and violence. The city is an amalgamation of locations associated to various incidents from Yogesh’s experience and memory. These places and the events that occur therein are built upon memories of events experienced by him in places and times lived by him. Facts are altered and subverted only to such an extent that allows Yogesh to weave stories about these lands. These works lie at the crossroads of memory, fact, and fiction.
The events in these stories as seen in different points of the map, and the comics that illustrate these events, are an amalgamation of myths from villages, urban legend, and actual occurrences in cities lived in. The politics of storytelling – especially how the story changes depending on the agency and location of the narrator is crucial in understanding Yogesh’s take on these events. A map in this instance functions both as an overview of geography as well as time and action. Instructive texts on the map – “Think before you raise”, “Shut up and die”, “Light up and burn”- serve dual purposes; they function as instructions; and play out as ominous warnings of what is to happen in these Badlands. With the graphic novel/comic format, Yogesh also exercises control over the pace of movement in the images – and therefore, also the speed at which the image and its contents are consumed. Although not a time bound work, the composition and exhibition of this body of works directs the viewer’s gaze and the duration of the gaze. Yogesh is firmly rooted in the narrative tradition of the subcontinent.
During a visit to Yogesh’s studio, he mentioned how the murals of the Ajanta cave temples manage to transport the viewer into a different realm. He combines such visual narrative traditions with the verbal narrative traditions as well as rituals of rural areas and mythologies while building his image. We look at Being Vulnerable, a comic format work from the larger body titled Tales from Badlands and see Yogesh’s exploitation of the narrative. The comic is a story located in the time and space of a hypothetical location. The work unfolds as an eight paneled comic and addresses race, vigilante violence, nationalism all at once. Typical of comics illustration, the villain is shown larger than life; an ogre-ish giant who picks on people not his size. A fight scene with a blood splatter that continues across three panels. The gore extends until a masked superhero arrives to save the day – a seemingly simple story, but one that is not too removed from the current state of affairs in the country. Violence triggered by racial biases are reported in the papers on an alarmingly frequent rate. The dialogue boxes in these panels quote slurs that as callous as they may seem, are come across by everyone at some point. Yogesh tells a tale that is worthy of disgust and cringe but is at the same time a reality for many.
In adopting the format of the comic, newspaper or the graphic novel, Yogesh presents his work in a structure that is easily accessible to the viewer. Such formats are familiar interfaces. The newspaper immediately brings with it a factuality – reportage of current affairs establishes the newspaper as an informant and a bearer of facts. Yogesh uses this trait of the newspaper to present his version of truths. In times when it barely takes a few clicks to spread word, he questions the basis on which opinions are formed and information is manipulated. In fact, his questioning uses a similar approach. How does Yogesh situate his politics in a studio-to-gallery-based practice? In his bringing forth of these narratives of troubled times in troubled lands, with a hypothetical hero figure attempting to and failing to save the day, he comments on the failures in the infrastructures of the systems that are meant to guard communities. The formats that Yogesh adopts piques my interest for another reason that both newspapers and comic books (literature for that matter) are documentary evidence of their cultural context. If one were to compile newspapers together, and present them as a book, then it would suffice to say that that book would be akin to a slice of history. Then again, can one place their entire faith in news media as a reliable source of information. News media is susceptible to promoting information that favors their sponsors – and on several instances have also been known to drift away from reportage and veer towards generating opinion (think about a panel discussion on television with the news anchor booming over every other voice and stubbing out contradicting opinion). With the growing ease of access to print, television, and web-based news media, is also the growing risk of propagation of bogus information.
Yogesh’s pseudo newspapers parody this very trend. He produces elaborate embossed prints and etchings of newspaper like images – some of which have absurd stories and images. If newspapers are really reporting the facts, then here is Yogesh’s newspaper, would one take his word for the truth just because it is presented in the convincing format of a newspaper. The graphic novel/comics can be seen as an indicator of what visuals and literature are consumed by society at a given point in time.
Yogesh mentions that none of these are actual solutions to problems. His bringing out issues or commenting on them have their limitations – in terms of how far these visuals reach and who views them. He looks forward to taking his work to spaces that are even more accessible, where the viewership is not limited to a kind of audience. He believes that this interaction is crucial as his stories find their home in the tales of the lay person. When I mentioned that the provocativeness and explicit imagery in some of the works can run the risk of being misread, he responded that such imagery was intentional. Yogesh uses a language that can be related to – the comix, graphic novel and newspaper formats. The layouts are familiar in that sense and the visuals although fictional, are rooted in actual events. Bringing out these events and narratives in these formats, Yogesh’s work tends to ring a few bells, encouraging a dialogue between the viewer and the works while reading. And reading here is both literal and metaphorical. Text, typeface and layouts allow the viewer to make very distinct associations, and thereafter the content becomes navigable. Navigation again is literal and implied – via the map and then the individual narratives. In exploring fantasy, fiction, and drawing from real life events Yogesh shuttles between depicting memories of places and commenting on cultural politics with ease.
Kadamboor Neeraj is a visual artist and writer based in Baroda, Gujarat. He has been a contributor to Serendipity Art Foundation’s Write | Art | Connect blog, and has been featured in the Gauhati Artists’ Guild journal Chihna.